Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category


That Mansion Called Bridewell

   Posted by: rring

[Posted by Beck Prigot (’14), for Jonathan Elukin’s History of the Book course]

When I first discovered Skillman’s New-York Police Reports while wandering around the law section of the Watkinson’s stacks, I was a little unimpressed. The book was rather plain looking, and looked like something practical, not entertaining. Little did I know how misbegotten my assumption was.

The title page is simple–“SKILLMAN’S NEW-YORK POLICE REPORTS. ILLUSTRATED WITH ENGRAVINGS. WRITTEN IN 1828–1829.”–quotes Shakespeare (“the sheriff with a most monstrous watch is at the door.”), and gives the publisher and year (“New-York: PRINTED BY LUDWIG & TOLEFREE, CORNER OF GREENWICH & VESEY-STS. 1830.) However, its dry, terse title belies what ended up being an amusing read, which I soon realized after I read the preface, which explains that Skillman included a preface because he had to; that “Custom, all-prevailing custom, hath decreed, that a Preface shall accompany, (as a sort of pioneer,) every original work or compilation, which issues from the press. Whether it imparts wisdom, wit, or folly, still, a preface is requisite” (i).

Unlike traditional police reports, the book takes a viewpoint more akin to the Hartford Advocate’s “News of the Weird” by devoting a paragraph or less to each report (save for the more interesting and involved stories, like the saga of the dandy) and summarizes the reports with a more humorous bent; Skillman especially likes making puns or small jabs at the perpetrators’ names. On August 7, for example, we find out that “A. Vampire was brought in. It is a curious Vampire — sucks no blood — and is considered a harmless Vampire. — Let go” (39). Skillman also occasionally imitates the offenders’ speech, as when he writes about two cases of people selling “yarbs”. Usually, the offenders are sent to Bridewell; after a while, Skillman stops referring to it by name, as when he writes that a Mr. W.W. “is now sent where he will probably learn better manners” (68). Occasionally, a report is accompanied with a small illustration, such as that of John Devoe (“long beard, no clothes, no money, no friends, no bail. We leave our readers to guess his fate”(22).)

Sometimes, I found that not much has changed since the 1820s. For example, a Mr. Jasper Smith, age 17, was brought in for creating a mob on Hudson Street. Skillman describes Smith as “something of a roving sprig (after night fall,) and plays ten-pins, and possesses considerable forensic eloquence” (21). Other times, I found that the 1820s were not as “proper” as most might have thought them to be, as when I read the report of four young women, “neither beautiful nor otherwise,” brought in for what was most likely indecent exposure; as Skillman phrases it, they “exposed themselves in such a manner as rendered them amenable to the laws, and are now in a situation by no means to be coveted” (68).

Skillman’s Reports were a little unusual, even as a contemporary work. A 1907 legal bibliography published by the Boston Book Company describes it as “certainly a curious volume”, and finds the preface “so out of the ordinary” that the publishers of the bibliography opted to reproduce it in full. Although it was notable enough to be published in the Boston Book Company’s bibliography, however, demand must not have been high enough to warrant annual editions, as there is no evidence that an 1829-1830 edition (or later) was published.

An interesting historical puzzle arose when I reread the book from cover-to-cover: that of a previous owner, a Mary A. Stedman, whose name is neatly pasted on the inside cover. My informal online research led me to two possible conclusions: either she was Mary ApOwen (Shields) Stedman (1815-1877), mother of Hartford’s Civil War hero (and Trinity College alum) Gen. Griffin Alexander Stedman, or she was the Mary A. Stedman who married Elias Gates in 1833 and was mentioned in Albany’s 1887 American ancestry register.

Though Skillman’s Reports look unassuming on the outside, their contents prove to be a humorous glance at everyday New York life in 1828 and 1829, as well as proof that not much has changed since then. People still argue over insignificant things, stay out late at night, and drink heavily. In a way, it’s comforting to read such a humorous take on the petty crimes of the time: it shows that not everyone took the law seriously, or lived boring lives. Perhaps in 180 years, people will read our “News of the Weird”s with a similar viewpoint.

[Posted by Katie Joachim (’12), for Jonathan Elukin’s History of the Book course]

The book I found at the Watkinson was not marked by an ‘X’, but nonetheless I found it to be a buried treasure.  Trinity’s copy of The History of the Lives and Actions of the Most Famous Highwaymen, Street Robbers to which is added, a Genuine Account of the Voyages and Plunders of the Most Noted Pirates is attributed to Captain Charles Johnson and was printed in 1814.  However, after doing some research I have discovered several interesting facts about the book’s origins.  The Boston Public Library has a copy of the book printed in 1742, which lists several different authors: Daniel Defoe, Charles Johnson and Alexander Smith.  In the description of the book, the Boston Public Library notes that earlier editions were attributed to Daniel Defoe, while others were ascribed to Charles Johnson.  Yale too attributes a 1742 edition to Defoe, but also lists three other editions by Charles Johnson from the years 1734, 1814, and 1839.  Much debate has ensued about whether or not Captain Charles Johnson was a real person or if Defoe was the actual author.  Some historians believe the book was written by Defoe, who wrote “Robinson Crusoe,” based on the style of writing, and the fact that he had been a merchant and “would have heard of the accounts of pirates.  His novels also featured the low life of pirates, prostitutes, thieves and murderers.” [1] Perhaps Defoe penned the earliest editions, and later on a ‘Captain Charles Johnson’ either ‘pirated’ the book, or became a nom de plume.

Although its author may remain uncertain, we cannot deny the book’s popularity.  It was reprinted at least four times, which tells us that at this time, there was a market for tales about the high seas and miscreants within the literate English community.  The Watkinson’s 1814 edition is 539 pages long, which makes it over 90 pages longer than the 1742 version.  This is because more stories were added to the book as it was reprinted over the years.  These additions were made as new highwaymen, thieves and pirates emerged over time, and could possibly have been used as a marketing tactic to encourage individuals to purchase the ‘new and improved’ edition.  In the preface, the author goes on to say that the book is “long esteemed the only authentic history of men…who, spurning the restraints necessary to uphold the fabric of civilized life…carried on their depredations for a time until the law doomed them…” There is clearly a moral message embedded in these tales, although many of the readers were likely drawn in by the mystery, intrigue and possibility of reading about real life criminals.  Amidst the tales of lesser known thieves and miscreants lie the stories of some more famous plunderers.  As I paged through the almost two-hundred-year-old book, I was pleasantly surprised to see the tale of Robin Hood.  This story stuck out from the rest for several reasons.  First, I had heard of Robin Hood before, and seeing his name was like seeing a familiar face out of context.  Was Robin Hood as widely known back then, and written into the book as a way to up readership?  I think that by including such ‘high profile’ characters, we can discern that this book was penned primarily to entertain readers.  Learning about people who break the social norms was then, and remains today, a popular pastime.  Even today millions of people are enthralled by T.V. shows such as Law and Order or Dateline NBC.

The book’s 120 stories are all listed in the table of contents, which has different symbols for the different types of criminals (P denotes pirate, and an H highwayman).  Some of the stories are about captains, while other stories are about pickpockets, murderers, thieves, and pirates.  There is a note at the bottom of the table of contents, which states “many of these denoted highwaymen began their career by picking pockets, petty thefts, and house breaking.  Those names that have a dagger after them committed murder in the course of their depredations: those distinguished by two daggers, were guilty of numerous or atrocious murders.”  By reading the table of contents the reader immediately encounters a pictorial representation of the danger that lies within the stories.  Physically, the book remains in good condition, printed on paper and encased in what appears to be its original binding with ink typeset.  There is one solitary picture at the very beginning of the book, and the formatting and word choice suggests that the book was directed towards an adult audience.

[“Sir John Falstaff: with his companions at Gad’s Hill”]

Upon first glance, The History of the Lives and Actions of the Most Famous Highwaymen appears to be commonplace, yet after further research I have learned that this book has an interesting history.  From the debate about authorship to the societal inferences that can be drawn from its popularity, this two hundred year old book has proven to be worthy of recognition at the Watkinson.


When Trains Moved the Goods

   Posted by: rring Tags:

[Posted by Sally Dickinson, Associate Curator]

Today while I was cataloging, two 19th century books about railroads crossed my desk.  The first was a hefty tome called Rand McNally & Co.’s Enlarged Business Atlas and Shippers’ Guide (1890).  It has color maps of all the states, Canada, South and Central America showing all existing railroad lines.  It also shows which express companies use which lines.  Maps of all other countries are thrown in for “ready reference” as well as maps of major cities and locations of railroad stations and post offices.   It is the 24th edition, which clues us into the fact that this atlas was highly useful to any shipping business in the western hemisphere.  It also has full returns of the 1890 census.  This comprehensive approach must have been as helpful in the 1890’s as the web is for us today.  And for us it is a snapshot into the business of shipping and the importance of railroads in the 1890’s.

The 2nd book on railroads covering an earlier period, Railway Economy (1850), gets a full description in the Bibliphiles’ Lair (see  Together the books give us a sense of what land transportation was like before the age of cars and air transportation.


An artist’s book and her studio

   Posted by: rring

I have always had kind of mixed feelings about artist’s books.  I love fine press books; I love well-crafted, hand-printed books.  Yet I just don’t see the appeal of a book that seems to be trying desperately not to be a book, which is the feeling that I get from a lot of artist’s books.  I look at them and I see craftsmanship and artistry and even beauty, but I have trouble valuing them as books.

I was therefore unsure what to expect when I set out to visit Robin Price’s studio.  I had looked at Ms. Price’s website before leaving, and I thought her work seemed interesting enough—but it’s hard to tell with just a few pictures, you know?  Especially since my favorite things about fine press books and artist’s books are usually things you can’t really see online.  I, for example, like the way you can tell that they’ve been through a letterpress and not a digital printer; I like the way the bindings feel in my hands; I like thinking about the choices behind this paper or that ink.  That sort of thing interests me much more than clever or quirky designs.

In any case, I was curious to see how I reacted to Ms. Price’s works in person, since that’s the best way for me to take anything away from them.  Her work on her website looked interesting, but I wasn’t ready to decide how I really felt about it until I actually held some of it in my hands.

We got there in the afternoon; it wasn’t a very long drive from Trinity.  The studio is located in a building that was once a mill, so the floors can hold the weight of all the presses—Ms. Price had many presses, at least four or five, all of them looking as though they could easily weigh as much as a car.  Each one accomplished a different effect, too—each press involved some variation in the printing process, and so made some subtle change in the finished product.

Her studio was really very nice, the sort of thing you’d imagine an artist’s studio to be, with all sorts of interesting little bits and pieces stacked on every surface, onions and glass mobiles hanging from the ceiling, and posters and drawings and prints of every kind hanging on the walls.

Ms. Price showed us some of her work and spoke about how she did it, and what some of the complications were for making her book, 43.  It’s amazing how much work went into it. As it turns out, Ms. Price’s books are the sort of artist’s books I really do like—there is so much attention to craftsmanship and detail in them, and while they’re highly conceptual they’re not so out there that a person can’t hold them and know they’re books and pamphlets.

I can only hope that the Watkinson’s new fellowship program will bring even more of this Ms. Price’s sort of creativity to the area.  Artist’s books can be gorgeous, fascinating things, and to me at least their heart lies in the relationship between ink, paper, and the press.  These three components create a seemingly infinite number of possiblities where art and expression are concerned, and once the press at the Watkinson gets up and running I am sure that it will cultivate even more book artistry in the Hartford area.

[Curator’s Note: Carly Sentieri, who posted this, is a graduate student at Indiana University, pursuing a dual MA in ancient history / Master’s in Library Science.  During her internship at the Watkinson we took several field trips, like this one to an artist’s studio in Middletown.]


Encountering Trinity’s Medieval Books

   Posted by: rring Tags:

[Posted by Scott Gwara, English department, University of South Carolina]

Part 1: a medieval kalendar (that’s no mis-spelling)

I have been spending the past few years traveling all over the US reading medieval manuscripts.  I estimate that I have seen and handled 2500 of them so far, in perhaps 70 collections.  I have a few research goals—probably too many—but chief among them is an inchoate, mammoth project, A History of Medieval Manuscripts in North America.  That’s what brought me to Boston recently.  I spent most of my time at Harvard, but I enjoyed a stop at Trinity (and Smith). You have fabulous manuscripts.  I wanted to offer a little irregular series of notes on them.  This collection represents a special treasure in the Watkinson Library, fascinating, valuable, and immensely useful for teaching History of the Book.  My advice: take Professor Elukin’s book history course this Fall!  How many times will you get to handle and study YOUR medieval treasures?  You will never regret this decision: the experience will stay with you for a lifetime.

Having spent four solid days in the Houghton Library at Harvard, I was ready for the adventure of a smaller library.  Harvard’s Richardson Collection is simply stunning but it is fairly well mined.  You’re not going to find many surprises there, though I was honestly blown away by the intelligent way the collection was assembled: pure Harvard.  William King Richardson came from Boston money, attended Harvard (class of 1880) and took a second BA at Oxford, graduating in 1883.  He wanted to a PhD in Classics at Harvard, but you have to belong to the indigent classes to become a teacher, and Will was clearly unfit, despite a double first at Oxford (thanks to his Harvard preparation).  The family money was well spent on 54 manuscripts and thousands of early printed books (over 100 incunables) and fine bindings.  The manuscripts are nearly all complete texts, with fine bindings, wide white margins, and lovely illumination.  They include a Wycliffite Bible in Middle English, a “heretical” bible with a furtive reputation.  The last one that sold a year ago went for $2 million.  Impressive to me was MS Richardson 16, an Italian manuscript on the art of war, Tacitus’ De instruendis aciebus.  Great illuminations in gold and colors showing how to arrange phalanxes.  Unfortunately, none of the online images shows these amazing diagrams.

By contrast, Trinity is just the place to find an overlooked treasure … like MS 8, an exquisite Paris Book of Hours.  A Book of Hours is a prayer book.  It’s called a Book of Hours because the key text is the “Hours of the Virgin,” basically a selection of Psalms (usually three of them) and related utterances recited at eight “hours” of the day.  The eight hours are Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline.  Sometimes a Book of Hours is called a Horae. The Latin word for hour is hora, a first-declension (feminine) noun with an –ae plural.  So, Horae = “Hours” or “Book of Hours.”  I know it sounds weird, especially to a Latinist.  But it is a horae, pronounced hor-eye.

Let me share a few things with you about this amazing manuscript in the short time I have.

The first thing I saw upon opening the book was a Paris kalendar (spelled with a k-), which is (typically, for a Paris kalendar) completely FULL of names.  All feasts in a medieval kalendar are in the genitive case.  They say, “of St. Thomas” rather than “St. Thomas” because the word “feast” is implied: “feast … of St. Thomas.”  Have a look at the list of feasts: can you see how they alternate red and blue, with an occasional gold entry?

Most kalendars are graded: more important saints have feasts in different colors.  Some can be quadruple-graded, four colors indicating a subtle importance for certain special feast days.  Now, don’t be fooled: you can’t just count the colors (blue, red, gold) and say, “this is triple-graded.”  Execute this test first.  Look at Christmas, indicated here by the four gold lines on the left (try not to be distracted by the gorgeous illumination of St. John on the right):

So … Christmas is gold (not easily readable because the gold is still as bright as the day it was applied).  Christmas is a major feast, so gold is, in this instance, the highest grade.  Therefore, any feast in gold receives extra attention in the liturgy.  (NB: sometimes gold is not the highest grade.)  Now examine how the colors are ordered.  Are they grouped randomly or do they vary red-blue-red-blue-red-blue, and so on?

Clearly, a kalendar doesn’t usually alternate important with less-important saints.  This layout is decorative.  Ergo, this calendar, for all its splendid pomp, is double-graded.  If you want to check for a further Paris connection, look for St. Geneviève, patron saint of Paris (d. 512).  Her Feast falls on 3 January.  I don’t have a picture of this, but I’m willing to bet it’s in gold.

A few more details about kalendars in Books of Hours.  Have a look at this kalendar from a fragmentary Trinity manuscript:

Question: how is it graded, and what color is the highest grade? Look at Christmas:

Okay, it’s a bit dirty and stained, but you can see these feasts are RED: Nativity, St. Stephen Protomartyr, St. John the Apostle, and Holy Innocents.  Correct answer is “double-graded.”

However, THIS kalendar has some skipped dates.  It’s not entirely full.  We can often discover where a fragmentary Book of Hours comes from by looking at the unusual saints venerated on specific dates.  You see, many saints were pretty local.  St Peter would be venerated throughout Europe, but St. Osmund is uniquely English, and pretty much associated with York.  The place to go for the information is the online Grotefend:

Just look at all the saints listed in this resource.  If we ever wanted to narrow down our search for a specific saint, this is the starting point.  It’s easy and fun.  Isn’t this manuscript fragment simply amazing?  All Trinity owns is the kalendar and a few text leaves, but they’re so useful and make a wonderful exercise for localizing saints.  So that’s all for now on kalendars.

Next installment: illuminations from MS 8.  You’ll want to see these.  They are unbelievably beautiful.  For now, however, I will simply leave you with a taste of the sublime … Gabriel at the Annunciation unfurls a scroll with the words “Ave gratia plena,” while God the Father (got cut off at top) sends down the Holy Spirit (a dove) at the Incarnation.  This is one of the most beautiful illuminations I have ever seen.


Four generations of nurserymen

   Posted by: rring

[Posted by Oliver Chamberlain, Executive Director (ret.) Center for the Arts University of Massachusetts Lowell]

When one goes to a research library, one usually submits a request by call number, then waits while an attendant goes off to locate the book in a locked, enclosed room. When they come back, cards and permissions have to be filled out. Finally you get to view the book. My experience at the Watkinson Library at Trinity College was quite different.

It started with my email inquiry to the Library after locating the book, a late nineteenth-century tome with catalogue by a nurseryman and landscape gardener (architect) of Pittsburgh. I am working on an article for The Cultural Landscape Foundation in Washington DC, on the four generations of the family who were nurserymen, florists and landscape architects from 1840 to 1940. They have not previously been described. They influenced the new way Americans designed and planted their homes and estates before the twentieth century. They called themselves landscape gardeners and architects before the 1899 founding of the American Society of Landscape Architects. They did work for men of wealth who owned or ran oil, steel and banking in Pittsburgh and
across the eastern US.

Word came back to my inquiry from the Library Curator that I could actually find the book closer to my home, at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, MA. I went there and found the eighth edition of
the book. But what I really needed to see was the last edition, the tenth, held by the Watkinson Library.

When I arrived I was greeted cordially in the Library. I filled out an information sheet. I met Richard Ring, who greeted me like an old friend and who had the book in question already waiting for me. Yes, I could take photographs. Credit only to the Watkinson Library. No fee. I was grateful, since this project is not supported by a grant.

My view of the book allowed me to corroborate that what the father wrote in this book had been repeated in the son’s autobiographical volume forty years later. I could also see that the frontispiece used by the father, a detailed drawing of rhododendrons characteristically exceeding their frame (attached), signed by W[illiam] Hamilton Gibson, noted author, naturalist and illustrator of the period, was used again by the son in his small volume coming out of his talk to the Massachusetts Horticultural Society two years after the publication of his father’s book. Viewing the book confirmed, among others things, the close relationship of the work between father and son, important members of the four generations.

My thanks to Rick Ring and his staff at the Watkinson Library at Trinity College for collecting, preserving and making available such books and information.

[Curator’s note:  the record of the book in question is here:]

Stunning Native American Portraits

In the process of cataloging a collection of over-sized volumes (folios) from the Watkinson Library I have discovered several items of interest.  Because of their size many folios have remarkable illustrations or maps.  Pictured here is a portrait from McKenney and Hall’s History of the Indian Tribes of North America, published in Philadelphia, 1837-1844. This 3 volume set contains 120 colored lithograph portraits copied after paintings by Charles Bird King in the Indian Gallery of the U.S. War Department.   When noteworthy Indians visited Washington it became the custom to have their portraits painted.  Thomas McKenney was the superintendent of Indian Affairs at the time and got to know some of the people of the native nations.  The book also contains biographical sketches by McKenney and a history of the tribes by James Hall.

–Sally Dickinson, Special Collections Librarian, Watkinson Library

[NB:  Most of the original portraits were destroyed in a fire at the Smithsonian in 1865, so the set is a vital historical record.  –R. Ring, Head Curator].


The West Indian colonies in context

   Posted by: rring Tags:

[Posted by Jan Conrad Todorski (Trinity ’10, [MA, History])

While doing research in the Watkinson Library on the Seven Year’s War, I stumbled upon an amazing map that helped me put the world of the past into perspective.  My purpose was to discover details that are missing from modern maps.  The physical, or scientific, accuracy of the map was not as important to me as how the people of the time saw their place in the larger scheme of things.

I found what I was looking for–a large fold-out map attached inside the back cover of volume five of the History of the West Indies, by Bryan Edwards.   The Historywas originally published in two volumes in 1793.  In 1801, the work was expanded to five volumes and was “illustrated by maps and plates.”  The Watkinson has the later edition!  This was a godsend for me.  With the help of one of the librarians, I managed to open and unfold the map.  It was huge and covered half of the table I was working at.

The impressive physical size of the map helped to place the eighteenth century world of the West Indies into context.  The islands of the West Indies were isolated–from each other and the rest of the world–by vast expanses of water.  The western Atlantic Ocean is to the north and the Caribbean Sea is to the south (one the map these areas are huge).  Today, the existence of “space” seems so obvious that it cannot possibly be important.  But, in times past, it was.  In our “globalized” world of fast and constant communications, we easily forget what a challenge travel was for people.  Maps did not diminish the space between places; they made it easier for people to understand and prepare for the expense of time and endurance that long-distance travel demanded.

The map is as accurate as you would want a map to be.  Stretching out in a long arc–from southern Florida to the northeastern coast of South America–the West Indies connect to each other, and the rest of the world, by one thing only: knowledge of their coastlines.  The map depicts, in minute detail, all of the shoals and reefs surrounding the islands.  Each coastline is annotated with the names of landmarks, havens, capes, and other points of reference.  The names are printed so close together that they are almost impossible to read!

Eighteenth century travel by sea was all about knowledge of coastlines, shores, and harbors.  This map clearly shows this.  Standing at the table, and looking down at the map, the islands seem like single-cell organisms, with the crowded writing along the coastlines resembling mats of ganglion reaching out to close the distance between each organism. Without knowledge of coastlines, travel by sea was impossible; a fact the map vigorously demonstrates.

The engraved pictures that accompany the History come as a jolt to the modern viewer.  One print, “The voyage of the Sable Venus, from Angola to the West Indies,” is a fanciful wish-fulfillment dressed up as a neo-classical interpretation of a contemporary poem.  Pardon my poor attempt at classification [see an online discussion here:].  These prints were included in the History to embellish the status of the island’s proprietors.  In so doing, the prints project to the outer world a false and biased view of what life was like on the British Islands.  The island’s proprietors were able to publish a view of the islands that they wanted the outside world to see.  The map, however, tells a different story.  Ocean-going travel at the time was time consuming, expensive, and dangerous.  In 1801, there were few people outside the British West Indies in a position to contradict the view of the islands that the proprietors chose to publish.

[Curator’s Note:  The Watkinson holds the following editions of The history, civil and commercial, of the British West Indies by Bryan Edwards (1743-1800): Dublin, 1793 (2 vols.); London, 1794 (3 vols.); London, 1801 (3 vols); and London, 1818-19 (5 vols plus an atlas).  Mr. Todorski refers to the atlas volume of this last edition (1818-19).]

[Posted by Michael Day]

As an independent researcher, writer and historian not affiliated with Trinity, I really appreciate the opportunity of using the Watkinson. My special area of interest is early 19th century education, and particularly the culture of the one-room schoolhouse. Exploring the collection of education materials originally developed by Henry Barnard has been a wonderful experience for me and tremendously helpful. Barnard (1811-1900), was a Hartford native, a prolific writer and an internationally recognized advocate for improvement of the public schools. He recognized the importance of looking to the past as a way of documenting our progress, and in this spirit developed an outstanding collection of early American schoolbooks, a collection now housed in the Watkinson Library. One special treasure that I’ve found is a 1737 edition of The New England Primer. The book is tiny; barely the size of my hand. It’s battered and missing several pages, but its significance is immense. This is one of the earliest known copies of what is arguably one of the most important books in American history. The New England Primer, in countless editions, dominated American education throughout the 18th century, and its influence remained strong until well after the Civil War. Several other 18th and early 19th century editions are included in the Library’s holdings. Looking at these The New England Primers today, we can appreciate, just as Henry Barnard intended, how far education has come since those early days.

[Curator’s note]

With the book is an envelope, bearing the following note: “The oldest Primer in Papa’s collection 1737 with photographic title-page put in by Paul Ford May 1897”

The note was undoubtedly written by one of Henry Barnard’s five children, and “Paul Ford” must have been Paul Leicester Ford (1865-1902), an historian and novelist (and a fascinating figure in his own right), who published many works on early America, including The New-England primer; a history of its origin and development; with a reprint of the unique copy of the earliest known edition and many facsimile illustrations and reproductions (1897).  The earliest known copy, dated 1727 and in very poor condition (these were literally read to death), is at the New York Public Library.

[Posted by Henry Arneth, Watkinson staffer]

While shelving a book in Watkinson Library, I noticed the 1984 edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and immediately thought of the awesome illustrations (woodcuts) by Barry Moser created for this edition.  I had first seen the illustrations, separate from the book, when I worked for an auction house and several copies of the woodcuts were being offered to raise funds by a local museum.  One of the images that stuck in my mind was of a number of body parts hung on hooks waiting to be used by Doctor Frankenstein.  I couldn’t resist.  I opened the book; I had to revisit not only the story since it was close to Halloween, but also the woodcuts I enjoyed so much.

After the title page, before the narrative even began, was a quote from Milton across from the image of a tree reminiscent of Yggdrasil, Odin’s tree of knowledge where Huginn (thought) and Muninn (memory) reside in Norse mythology:

“Did I request thee, maker, from my clay / To mould me a man?  Did I solicit thee / From darkness to promote me?”  [Adam, Paradise Lost (John Milton)]

Then we are left in Mary Shelley’s hands as she takes us on an unforgettable journey…

“My abhorrence of this fiend can not be conceived.  When I thought of him, I gnashed my teeth, my eyes became inflamed, and I ardently wished to extinguish that life I had so thoughtlessly bestowed.”  [Victor Frankenstein, Frankenstein]

So wrote Mary Shelley in her novel; she conceived the story when she was in her teens, wrote it as a short story and later expanded it into a novel with the help of Percy B Shelley.  When first published in 1818, her name wasn’t attached to the story—in fact, it was published anonymously.  Her name wouldn’t be connected with the narrative until it was translated into French a year later.  However, that still didn’t stop people from ascribing the work to her husband!  The reader is then left with a question: who was this woman who took Milton’s Paradise Lost  and retold it with her own spin, where man is the creator/God who abandons his creation to fend for itself in the wilds of the early nineteenth century?

Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin was the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, a feminist and philosopher and William Godwin, a philosopher.  They were the most intellectual couple of their time.  Mary herself must have inherited much of their fire and drive as well as their sense of perception—she seems to have been a learned intellectual as well.  And she took her knowledge and integrated it directly into her story blending folklore, literature and her imagination into a cohesive, timeless narrative.

Her style and voice were unique.  One of the interesting ironies of Shelley’s narrative is the overall biblical undertone of her novel, which is most likely due to the strong bond the work shares with Milton—ironic because of the subject matter of the story, the voice of the narrative, and even the progression of the story have no other true connection to the bible.

There are two texts the creature has with him to not only bring comfort during his exile, but to also educate—Milton, and Dr. Frankenstein’s journal.  From Milton, he learns about good, evil, and the divine roots of man as a being created by God, therefore entitled to an afterlife in the presence of the supreme deity.  He identifies with the rest of mankind as if he shared the same origins as every other man.  It is from Dr. Frankenstein’s journal he learns his actual beginnings as a creation of man, not God and how he was pieced together from an assortment of unwanted segments and scraps from cadavers—the dead, the vile of the vilest.  At that moment, he realizes he is not like every other man; because of his beginnings he has no soul, no chance of eternal life, and more importantly, he knows from his Milton there will be no admittance into the glories of heaven for him.  When he tries to interact with his fellow man, this important point is driven home with even more force.  He sees just how different he is, and what an abomination he is by viewing himself through the eyes of others.  The creature is alone, unwanted by both man and his creator.  His loneliness can not be eased.  Through what he perceives as unwarranted (and in the beginning, it is unnecessary) ill treatment, he becomes a wretched being with no hope of redemption for he also loses the faith in God he learns through reading Milton.

“I was trashed; a mist came over my eyes…but I was quickly restored by the cold gale of the mountains.  I perceived, as the shape came nearer, (sight tremendous and abhorred!) that it was the wretch whom I had created.”  [Victor Frankenstein, Frankenstein]

The Creature’s final blow comes when his creator, his God, Dr. Frankenstein, rejects him; his anger mimics what Adam must have felt as he was being expelled from the Garden of Eden by his creator; thus identification of the creature with mankind is intensified.  Underscoring this alignment is the absence of the word “monster” in the text—nowhere in the narrative does Shelley use that pronoun to describe her character.  This also helps the reader to identify with the creature, especially in the passages where we experience the story through the creature’s point of view—as we identify with the creature, we also sympathize with him.

It is in this sympathy that we find the enduring popularity of the story; it was popular even in the author’s lifetime.  The novel was published in 1818, and the first staging of the story began shortly after.  Interestingly, not all of these performances were plays—some performances were also operas.  The earliest operatic performance of Shelley’s story was titled Presumption: or the Fate of Frankenstein premiered in 1823 and was written by R. B. Peake.  According to Elizabeth Miller in her article “Dracula and Frankenstein a Tale of Two Monsters,” she credits this specific opera with coining the now iconic phrase; “It lives!  It lives!”

Miller also notes that Mary Shelley eventually attended a performance of a play “…and commented that she was ‘much amused and it appeared to excite a breathless eagerness in the audience’…” I can only assume that she was one of those audience members!  An interesting aside Miller also offers is “A second adaption opened the same year, as did a trio of comedic versions.”  My mind reels with the possibilities of what a comedic treatment of Frankenstein would be like in 1823 without Abbot and Costello, the Bowery Boys, and the Three Stooges!

Sources: Frankenstein, or The modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecroft Shelley; “Dracula and Frankenstein a Tale of Two Monsters” by Elizabeth Miller; and class notes.